Tuesday, May 31, 2016

You Should Never Say "What Customers Need to Understand is..."

I always cringe when product people utter the words “What customers need to understand is…”.  To me it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how to serve a market.  I saw this sentiment reported in a recent New York Times article on the hearing aid market which explained that the pricing model is essentially a forced bundle where two thirds of the price was for service, including hearing evaluation, counseling and adjustments over the life of the product.  This approach has put a pair of hearing aids at or about $5,000.
The manufacturers believe, and perhaps rightly so, that diagnosing and treating hearing loss are too complex for consumers to do using consumer devices, without the aid of a professional and therefore justifies the forced bundle.  However, in this age of self-service people will search out their own solutions.
By assuming a status quo approach with forced bundles and captive customers, the industry is underestimating the strategic forces that are encroaching on their niche:
  • Active Government Intervention: An October 2015 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended federal actions to “simultaneously decrease the cost of hearing aids, spur technology innovation and increase consumer choice options” including the ability to buy a basic hearing aid over the counter.

  • Underserved Market Invites Competition: The opportunity in hearing aids appears particularly striking. Nearly 30 million Americans, including two-thirds of those over 70, are said to have hearing loss. But only 15 to 30 percent of those who could benefit from hearing aids use them.

  • High Industry Concentration Invites Scrutiny: More than 90 percent of the business is controlled by six large manufacturers: Sonova, Sivantos, William Demant, GN Store Nord, Widex and the lone American company, Starkey Hearing Technologies.

  • Availability of Substitutes: The consumer electronics industry is encroaching on the hearing aid business, offering products that are far less expensive and available without the involvement of audiologists or other professionals. That is forcing a re-examination of the entire system for providing hearing aids, which critics say is too costly and cumbersome, hindering access to devices vital for the growing legions of older Americans.

  • Price Pressure: The Veterans’ Administration has been able to purchase hearing aids at the price of $400. This suggests some willingness to negotiate pricing.

There are a lot of dollars at stake here.  About 3.1 million hearing aids were sold in the United States in 2014, with a wholesale value of $1.7 billion and a retail value of $5.2 billion, according to estimates by Lisa Bedell Clive, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company.
As product managers we need to be thoughtful in how we manipulate the levers of product, price, promotion and placement.  It seems this industry has left price and placement on autopilot by relying on a bundle and a network of sales agents.  It is also incumbent on anyone in this role to be mindful of what is happening in the business environment.  This industry is facing new competition, price pressure and government intervention.  Fortunately there seems to be lots of market share available for those clever enough to seek it out and not tell customers what they need to understand. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Social Local Mobile Running Info

I've been running road races with some consistency for the last ten years.  I'm perhaps a bit faster now than when I started so I am glad for that.  What has been interesting for me has been the evolution of how sign-ups and data sharing work.  Many race organizers rely on multiple vendors for these tasks. They'll use Imathlete or Active.com or some ticket website to gather sign-ups.  Usually a local firm handles the timing and chips because onsite work is required.  Finally the starting gun goes off and the racers cross the timing mat and head out on the course.

If it is a 5-K race the speedy finishers cross the line in 16+ minutes and look to see what the big time clock says.  As more racers come in the computer dutifully logs in their time until everyone finishes.  Meanwhile the timing company starts printing out result sheets and taping them to tables or walls so people can see how they did - and some will take pictures of the sheet with their mobile phone. These results need to be compiled in almost real time so that ribbons, medals, or blueberry pies can be doled out to the winner in each age group.

After a recent 4 mile race in our hometown, my son and I were surprised when our phones received the following text:
It contained our respective race results!  This was much better than elbowing our way up to the taped up copies or even the kiosks that some organizers have.  We now had an artifact of sorts sent right to our phones.  In the context of SOLOMO (Social, Local, Mobile) - this text kind of hit all three.

In the grand scheme of things, this communication is just one more way in which our phones are becoming a little bit more indispensable as collectors of our digital detritus. Although many of the runners undoubtedly use Strava, MapMyRun or some other trackers - this text provides another artifact to validate those providers.

So far we've not been spammed by the provider for other services or races, but I wonder if they'll reach out next year to remind us to sign-up?  It also raises the question of whether the race organizer gets access to all those mobile numbers.

Is there a lesson here for information companies? Perhaps - it reinforces the way our mobile devices deliver timely alerts for our weekend activities and it raises the question as to what information providers can push through to your phone Monday through Friday that you can't wait to receive.

What content does your team create that customers need right now and can you provide it to a mobile device?  

Monday, July 20, 2015

Public Speaking - Are you practicing?

A few years ago I had the chance to speak at a panel at the O’Reilly Tool’s of Change conference. As part of the attendee registration package I was given a copy of the book Confessions of a Public Speaker, by Scott Berkun. It was a great read packed with humorous insights as well as useful tips that the author has honed over the years. I enjoyed it so much that I took it as one of my vacation books and have bought copies for colleagues. Here are a couple of highlights:

1. Good Discussion of the Practicalities of Public Speaking – Berkun has been on his own making a living by speaking and writing. As a result he’s compiled a lot of best practices and tips that come from his extensive experience. Some are obvious like showing up early while others are clever like wiring the microphone through your shirt so the cords are not swinging while you are speaking.

2. Tools of the Trade – Berkun writes about what kind of equipment to have, what kind of back-ups to use and shares an extensive bibliography for further study. He also gives valuable advice on slide design – very appropriate given the recent article in the NY Times about use of PowerPoint in the military.

3. Exhortation to Practice – This was the biggest reminder for me. Too often I wait until the last minute to finish up my slides. Sometimes that means writing them on the plane enroute to your destination. Since Berkun charges to speak and is taking up a lot of people’s time, he makes sure to practice over and over until he has the presentation right. His encouragement is for all public speakers to do the same.

4. Tips for when things go poorly – Let’s face it, we can’t always hit the ball out of the park when we speak and sometimes you have to just get through the presentation. He shares some of his experiences and how to cope with them if they happen to you.

5. Confessions – one of the most memorable sections of the book was the end where he compiled confessions of other public speakers. Most were humorous examples of where presentations went off track or did not go as planned. It was a nice ending and helped put the rest of the book in perspective.

It’s a quick and valuable read so get your hands on a copy – it will make your next presentation go much more smoothly.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Publishing Industry Contacts (Updated July 2015)
As I've moved through the information industry I've collected contacts about associations, financial firms, companies, recruiters and consultants.  I've maintained it as a word document and am finally moving it online so that I can refer job seekers and industry researchers there.  I'm hoping it will be easier to update and more permanent.  Please send any additions, deletions or corrections to ed.keating@gmail.com or use the comment feature below.

1) Associations

a) SIIA – Software & Information Industry Association. They cover the content and software area quite well. .

i) FISD.net – Financial division of SIIA

b) SIPA– Specialized Information Publishers Association (merged with SIIA)

c) American Business Media – Founded in 1906, American Business Media is the association for business-to-business information providers, including producers of print publications, websites, trade shows and other media. 200-plus member companies. (merged with SIIA)

d) Online Publishers Association -- industry trade organization dedicated to representing high-quality online publishers before the advertising community, the press, the government and the public. Very expensive to join – meant for big media companies

e) ASIDIC – merged with NFAIS

f) NFAIS -- National Federation of Abstracting & Indexing Services

g) STM -- Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers. Focuses on Academic and Professional publishers.

2) Financial Firms– there are a couple of firms that cover the information industry. Some are heavier on advisory than banking:

a) Jordan Edmiston –NY

b) Berkery Noyes – NY

c) DeSilva Phillips - NY

d) Warburg Pincus

e) Veronis Suhler -- NY  Leading private investment firm that invests in the information, education, media, marketing and business services industries in North America and Europe.

f) Marlin & Co. - Marlin & Associates is an independent boutique financial and strategic advisory firm and investment bank focused on advising owners and managers of U.S. and international companies that provide technology, digital information, and healthcare-related products and services.
g) Whitestone Communications –national mergers and acquisitions advisory firm serving the publishing, information and training industries. Based in NY.

h) Media Advisory Partners - serves media industry - broadly defined to include publishing, broadcast & cable, education & training, information content providers

3) Connecticut Companies

a) Allegient Systems - bought by Bottomline Technologies

b) Atlantic Law Book Company -- publishes in-depth books on the substantive and procedural aspects of Connecticut civil and criminal law. I think Hartford based.

c) BLR – Old Saybrook based publisher of safety, HR, Safety and environmental products.

d) Bureau of Business Practices – New London. Part of Wolters Kluwer

e) Cliggott Publishing – Darien. Owned by UBM. Medical Publisher

f) Connecticut Law Book Publishing – Tiny Guilford Publisher.

g) Dataviz – Trumbull based company that builds software for the Palm OS

h) Daticon – Legal document mgmt. based in Gales Ferry.

i) EDGAR Online – CT based financial information company. bought by RR Donnelly in 2012

j) FACTSET – Norwalk based financial information provider

k) Forecast International -- Defense publisher – family run.

l) Lawyerup - Easton CT / America's First Urgent Legal Dispatch System

m) Micropatent - part of Thomson

n) Legal Research Systems – very small company in Hartford focused on ERISA publishing. -- purchased by WESTLAW

o) Little Blue Books – Hartford based publisher – family run. Lists of Doctors and specialties. Purchased by WEBMD

p) NERAC – Tolland based firm providing database services to engineers

q) Oceana Publications, Inc. - Publisher of International Legal Materials. Since 1948 publisher of essential international legal information specifically designed for law librarians, practicing attorneys, business executives, academicians, government officials and researchers worldwide. - Part of Oxford University Press

r) Taunton Press – publishes high end how to books like fine woodworking.

s) Thomson

t) Transcentive – software to manage corporate records, insider filings and stock option plans. Based in Shelton. Bought by Computershare in Australia in Feb ’04.

u) Windhover Information – provides analysis and commentary on health care business strategy, industry deal-making, marketplace trends, and the world of medical start-ups. Norwalk, CT. Bought by Reed Elsevier.fd

v) triVIN -- provides distinct products and services that automate motor vehicle processing and lien and title administration / Groton, CT

w) Tymetrix – legal software billing company – now owned by CCH/ Hartford

x) Vertafore -- provider of specialized software, services and information for the property and casualty insurance industry. Located in Windsor.- moved to Seattle?

y) Greyhouse Publishing - directory and encyclopedia publisher founded in 1981. Now in Amenia NY.

4) Consulting Firms & Newsletters

a) www.shore.com – Westport CT based

b) www.paidcontent.org –

c) www.greenhousegrows.com – well connected firm based out of Chicago

d) www.outsellinc.com – CA based firm specializing in the end user community and industry executives.

e) Infocommerce Group -- boutique consulting firm focusing on directories and specialized information.

f) SKS Advisors – Steve Sieck

g) Hal Espo

5) Recruiters

a) http://www.bernikow.com/ -- Bob Bernikow focuses on sales type positions.

b) www.bertdavis.com

c) www.cheyennegroup.com

d) Ed Kaminski

e) Ligature Partners

f) Chemistry Executive Search – Rick Linde

g) New Coordinates, Cara Erickson

h) The Howard Sloan Koller Group

i) InSearch – Millie Mashal

j) Korn Ferry

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Trading Print Dollars for Digital Dimes in the Paperless Cockpit

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times entitled the Paperless Cockpit. It describes the trend of airlines and private pilots to trade off 40 pounds of paper for a 1.5 pound iPad. One interviewed pilot summed the benefit up succinctly: “When you need to a make a decision in the cockpit, three to four minutes fumbling with paper is an eternity.”

There were a couple of other noteworthy points that the information industry can relate to as pilots embrace the “electronic flight bag”:

Form Factor – The small, easy to carry tablet affords many benefits to pilots. As all professional publishers know, the shift to electronic offerings has been going on for decades. The Information Industry Association, the predecessor to the SIIA was founded over forty years ago for pioneering digital publishers. Early electronic products focused on news and financial data. However, accountants, consultants and lawyers soon got in on the revolution and they helped drive adoption of online, CD-ROM and later web offerings. These road warriors demanded lighter and more functional products. It is no surprise that pilots share those same concerns.

The interesting wrinkle is that the weight reduction offers benefits to both the pilots and the airlines. Saving sixty pounds of paper (pilot + co-pilot) creates a significant savings not only in paper and printing costs but also in fuel because planes are that much lighter.

The reduction in injuries was also cited as a weight-saving benefit. The switch to the iPad is expected to reduce health care costs and absenteeism from shoulder and back injuries associated with hoisting heavy flight bags, said David Clark, pilot and manager of the connected aircraft program at American Airlines. “Cockpits are small, and lifting that thing up and over your seat causes damage, particularly when you consider a lot of pilots are over 40.”

Change in Workflow - In a point that will resonate with librarians, pilots do not have to go through the tedium of updating the manuals by swapping out old pages with new ones because updates are downloaded automatically. As someone who flies, I like the idea of my crew having timely updates in the cockpit.

The Apps - This electronic flight bag, thanks to the iPad, supports hundreds of general aviation apps that simplify preflight planning and assist with in-flight operations. The article cites that there are now more than 250 aviation apps for the iPad, and one called ForeFlight is among the top grossing apps listed on iTunes.

“The iPad apps can provide additional information and are often easier to use than avionics technologies installed in airplanes,” said Mark Erickson, a corporate pilot who flies a Gulfstream G450 and Falcon 2000 for a company based in St. Louis.

In a point not lost on publishers who have taken their products through a media migration: his motivation was to save on subscriptions to paper maps and charts, which had cost him $1,414 a year. He now gets the same maps and charts digitally delivered to his two iPads for $150 a year. This is a variation of the infamous ratio of trading print dollars for digital dimes. Mr. Brown concluded that “Anything that makes me more alert, responsible and allows me to stay more focused on actually flying the plane is a good thing”.

See the follow-on interview here on www.nytimes.com .

Monday, August 23, 2010

WikiReader -- good enough technology?

Last month I was in a big box store and came across this product -- the WikiReader. It offers offline access to 3 million plus articles from the english version of Wikipedia. It does this without a wifi or 3G connection. But rest assured, you can get updates via a computer that will let you update an SD card. The whole thing runs on a few batteries that last about a year.

As I sit in my office surrounded by a laptop, iPhone and iPad - I think the product is kind of silly but maybe it has utility for some. For example, before the Apple/Gizmodo stolen phone brouhaha came up, the term "apphole" referred to one of those people who was always checking their phone to answer questions that came up in coversation. Maybe peoplie like that would buy it. In a similar vein, I read years ago that the Guinness Book of World Records was devised to resolve bar bets. Perhaps the WikiReader may serve the same purpose in watering holes without wifi or 3G.

Perhaps this is the device version of the "just good enough" competition we sometimes see in the content space. Users will trade off cost for a cheap or free version because what they need is not mission critical. I don't think this business is all that scalable in that no one wants a slew of extra devices connected to their belt but maybe they can find enough of a market somewhere.

If you are interested, you can buy one from Amazon for $73.58. I'll be sticking with my iPad.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ken Doctor, in his book entitled NEWSONOMICS: 12 New Trends That will Shape the News You Get, adds some great points to the debate about the future of news. He weaves in interesting facts and figures and interviews many industry thought leaders. He’s been a frequent speaker and contributor to SIIA events so it was interesting to get his take on the topic. A few points that really jumped out at me include:

How much influence will be exerted by whoever pays for the news in the years ahead? He reminds us that “Someone always pays for the news, and the support has always spawned debates about who news organizations favor or fear.” As news organizations experiment with hyperlocal coverage at The New Haven Independent or the non-profit business model of The Texas Tribune, we get some perspectives on how that news will get paid for and delivered.

Ken also points out that “News is unlike any other business. It balances profit-making and public service at it score. Citizens across the globe depend on the business of news to find out what’s going on. Who brings us the news matters.” This “follow the money” approach reminds the reader as to how this business works and Doctor does a nice job of providing examples with real numbers to illustrate these points.

By interviewing lots of people I know and respect like Patrick Spain of Newser, Rafat Ali of PaidContent and Larry Schwartz at Newstex, Ken gives a balanced perspective on what we should expect in the future. At the end of the book he points out that “just as we pay for cable programming and broadband Internet and support all kinds of community and global organization, we can support news and information. As a representative of many paid content companies– I could not agree more.